The committee tasked with preparing Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics is exploring a frugal plan for producing the bronze, silver, and gold medals awarded to winning athletes.
The idea? Use precious metals recycled from old electronics.
Ambitious Recycling Initiative
Hosting the Olympic Games requires major capital outlays and investment in infrastructure from the host city. For this reason, there is often considerable opposition from residents of a potential Olympic city. Bringing the Olympics to your hometown could mean a tax hike or an unwanted diversion of public funds.
This kind of pushback by locals is exactly what prevented Boston from pursuing a bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Suffice it to say that any Olympic host city ends up committing tens of billions of dollars to the endeavor.
Tokyo, the site of the upcoming 2020 Summer Games, is looking for an innovative way to cut its costs in this regard. While manufacturing Olympic medals is hardly one of the primary cost inputs, every dollar (or yen) saved counts.
One readily available source of recycled copper, silver, and gold is mobile phones.
Japan has plenty of smartphones and other small handheld electronics to go around, among the most of any country in the world.
Although the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro each made use of recycled metals for the medals that were awarded, Japan is seeking to become to first host nation to produce all of its Olympic medals through recycling.
In total, 5,000 medals will be awarded at the Summer Games, including the Paralympic Games.
Running Into Difficulties
News of Tokyo’s metal recycling plans were reported by the English-language publication The Japan News.
However, a significant shortage of silver for these purposes is anticipated.
Silver is needed in the greatest abundance for the production of Olympic medals. It’s estimated that 1,230 kilograms of silver (roughly 39,550 troy ounces) will be required, far more than the amount of gold and bronze needed combined.
(Gold medals are actually made primarily of silver, with an additional six grams of gold plating)
In response to the expected shortfall, the organizing committee for the Games is aggressively stepping up its efforts to collect more disposed electronics. It has set up thousands of collection sites around Japan, most of which are at post offices. The committee will also coordinate promotional efforts with department stores and universities to cast an even wider net.
More than three million smartphones have been recovered so far, but millions more of these electronic devices will need to be collected if Tokyo is to achieve its goal of 100% recycled medals.
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